Artificial intelligence has introduced the world to all kinds of novelties—including artistic designs of AI temples. The fad will pass, but the covenants made within temples won’t. That’s partly why a new book filled with images of AI temples also includes devotional essays. In this interview, author Jeffrey Thayne explains how the endowment revealed through Joseph Smith has application even in the imagination.
This post includes an Amazon Affiliate link to the book by Jeff Thayne. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
What’s the backstory for this book about AI temples?
When I first played with AI image generators back in late 2021 and early 2022, one of the first things I did was try to create images of temples. One of the first I attempted was “A Latter-day Saint temple as a refuge in the gathering storm.”
The generator did a passable job, but at the time I thought it was jaw-dropping. Compared to the images in the book, those first images were rather awful. The technology is making leaps and bounds every few months.
What do you hope people will get from it most?
I hope that people get a sense of awe and wonder with respect to the temple. Temples are commonplace now, compared to a generation ago, and sometimes I think we lose that awe that comes along with it.
I hope we can recapture that sense of place that is genuinely sacred and special—that points us to something higher and holier. I want people to see temple covenants as something that points them to a higher and holier way of living.
What is the nexus of creativity and devotion?
The Star Trek communicator was envisioned long before cell phones ever existed (and I’ve read that flip phones were inspired in part by those communicators). Star Trek: The Next Generation featured iPads a decade and a half before we actually made them. And movies have depicted generative AI decades before we now have it. I think that imagination helps drive innovation.
I think that the temple helps us to see the type of people we can become. Like Star Trek communicators inspired the future, the vision we see of ourselves in the temple can inspire us to become the best version of ourselves. Our covenants in the temple facilitate the true driver of civilizational progress: collective commitment to a common cause, a vision to strive for, and duties to live up to.
What most excites you about this AI temples book?
Honestly, it’s the essays in the book. Ten years from now, generative AI art will be commonplace and mundane, and I don’t expect people to gawk at the temple images the way they will today. But the essay’s insights were in our minds years before we ever put this book together—and they haven’t gotten old yet.
So the AI art is sleek and fun to show off, and I’m excited to see where this all goes. We are living in the future and I’m here for it.
But ultimately, what I’m most excited about is the temple itself, the covenants we make there, and the possibility that the essays we’ve put with the pictures will help people to see their own temple experience and covenants in a new light.
Why use artificial intelligence to create imaginary temples?
I’m a geek and a nerd, and I love all the AI stuff that’s been coming out. It’s right out of Star Trek or Iron Man or other science fiction. And like the warp drive, I thought this stuff was going to be permanently out of reach. Sure, we will build faster planes and eventually colonize the moon, but to actually have machines that write passable poetry? That seemed really implausible.
But now we have it, and it can do a whole lot more than write poetry. So, I wanted to show off some of the cool stuff we were doing. Again, like I said before, eventually that stuff will become old hat. But right now it’s cool and I want to show people, like a kid showing off the features of a new toy.
Does AI have symbolic importance?
I honestly don’t think there’s a lot of spiritual significance to it. The book would certainly be far more timeless, I think, if I had the money to pay an artist to create these temples. But I think that AI is going to play a role in the creative process for generations to come.
For now, many artists object strongly to any use of AI in the process, but I think we will see AI becoming a tool just like cameras, photoshop, and other tools. Some will use it to brainstorm. Some will use it for reference images. Some might just straight up use it, in combination with other tools!
Like all tools, it comes with risk. Oral storytelling suffered with the invention of writing. Mental math suffered with the invention of the calculator.
But these tools also expanded our capabilities in tremendous ways, and I don’t think we can yet predict what will come of it.
How did this book change the way you see the temple?
This book did not change the way I see the temple. But the insights in the essays definitely did. Understanding how the temple teaches the Plan of Salvation; understanding what it means to be a king in Israel, joint-heirs with Christ; understanding how to find stillness away from city lights to see the stars, a metaphor of the lights of heaven; understanding agency and the way our covenants expand our agency; those all shape my understanding of the temple.
Ultimately, the temple is all about the Savior. We don’t make covenants so that we can then prove ourselves worthy so that someday we can have a relationship with the Savior; these covenants bind us with the Savior, and reflect His character, mercy, and discernment into our own lives. The entire temple journey symbolizes taking upon ourselves the name and attributes of Christ, and sharing with Him the inheritance of all that God has.
You might say that, like the prodigal son, we have all squandered our inheritance, “for all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.”
But Christ has not. And since He now inherits all, He has more than enough to share. As we take upon ourselves His name, we then partake of that inheritance by relying on His merits.
The temple is a symbol of that process. And it is a process of transformation in His image.
What are some of your favorite essays from the book?
It is hard to pick because each chapter is fun for its own reasons. But here are a few that stand out right now:
- Chapter 2. I love the metaphors about leaving the buzz and noise of the city to stargaze in the country. In a similar way, we must leave the distractions of the world to see the heavenly light of the temple.
- Chapter 3. I love exploring the kingly virtues in this chapter—and about how divinity and royalty do not make us entitled, but rather entail greater responsibilities of service.
- Chapter 4. I love exploring the way our covenants expand our moral agency in Chapter 4.
- Chapter 9. But I especially love the fresh take on the Plan of Salvation offered by Nathan Richardson in Chapter 9. The idea that we move from innocence to fallenness, and then find salvation in stages through Christ (moving from a telestial life to a terrestrial, and from there to a celestial) is a moving depiction of how the temple teaches the plan of salvation. None of this implies progression through the kingdoms, but instead lays out a path for how we can progress in the here and now, as we forsake sin and then consecrate our lives to God.
What is your favorite AI temple?
Strangely, in the book (on pages 90-91) there are some watercolor temples inspired by Star Trek and similar franchises. These are my favorite because I find the juxtaposition of sacred temple worship and the secular humanism of Star Trek exhilarating.
Star Trek is pretty sterile religiously. Aside from some ambiguous Bajoran religions, you never see Starfleet officers praying or otherwise honoring the sacred. Most often they are casting down the gods of the various people’s they meet, replacing superstition with enlightenment.
So, the Star Trek temples are my favorite because it’s a delicious subversion of the genre. I love the idea of an intergalactic society thriving through religious practice rather than in spite of it.
I love the idea of missionaries inviting Klingons to lay down their warring ways and unite under the banner of Christ, and to seek the gifts of the Spirit. I love the idea of starship captains regularly consulting the divine in their journeys. And I love the idea of peoples of all galactic races uniting under a set of common covenants and commitments, despite their various cultures and other norms.
How might the book change temple architecture?
You are asking me to predict the future! To be honest, as far as temple architecture, I don’t expect this to move the needle at all. I am sure that temple architects will someday lay eyes on the book, but I believe there’s economic and practical reasons for designing temples the way we currently do.
That said, I sometimes yearn—as I am sure others do—for temples that are unique in appearance and which lift our sights and minds upwards with their vaulted ceilings and towering presence.
Why did you choose the fictional universes you did?
One of the constraints of the AI is that you are limited to what’s in the training set. Some have asked, for example, for temples inspired by Brandon Sanderson’s universes, but there’s simply not a lot of images out there for his universes, since they haven’t yet been adapted for TV or film.
All we have is cover art.
Franchises with a rich and varied number of images in the training set are easier for the AI to work with and explore within.
What temples would you include in a sequel?
Personally, I would love to do a set of more themed temples, such as seasonal motifs (fall, winter, summer, spring), holiday themes, or climate tropes. I think it would be fun to visualize a temple in a submarine environment—or a temple in a cavernous environment. I have created temples in Antarctica and other extreme locales.
The challenge with all of this, of course, is that this is untested copyright territory, and I have no desire to step on toes of anyone’s intellectual property. Disney almost certainly has no copyright claims to “a religious structure in a desert-looking world,” but the moment I slap the label “Latter-day Saint temple on Tatooine” onto it, I would be entering perilous territory.
And so you’ll note that I never do that in the book. And I never claim any direct connection between these temples and the franchises that inspired them.
More interesting to me than the possibility of future images is the possibility of future essays. The current book does not mention the grand work of uniting families, connecting future generations to past generations, or the soul-enlarging work of proxy ordinances. I want to explore the unifying and uniting power of covenants across cultures and nations, and the role that temple work can play in creating a people that are the “leaven” of the earth.
How can Latter-day Saints keep their worship holy when there are so many temples?
I would say to go, and to make preparations to go a major part of the experience. Of course, those preparations should not get in the way of going, but if we study, pray, fast, and otherwise set our minds on sacred things as part of the experience—rather than just bustling to the temple without any additional thought—this plays a great role in helping treat the temple as something sacred and distinct.
God asked Moses to remove the shoes from his feet to honor the holy ground upon which he stood. What worldly concerns can we shed at the door of the temple?
You might say that the answer is mindfulness. Going to the temple with purpose. Don’t let this get in your way—don’t not go just because you aren’t feeling purposeful about it. Go either way!
But if it’s on your calendar, also plan some time to ponder. Get there a bit early so that you can spend time in the chapel beforehand. Plan a few minutes extra so you can spend time in the celestial room.
Allow yourself to linger in the moment.
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About the interview participant
Jeffrey Thayne is member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He holds a PhD in Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences from Utah State University, and teaches Psychology at BYU-Idaho. Thayne has published in outlets like the Interpreter and Meridian Magazine, and presented at conferences such as FAIR.
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AI temples resources
The link to the AI Temples book is an Amazon Affiliate link. As an Amazon Affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases.